All life is valuable – especially those who are suffering, urged speakers at a recent pro-life program at Georgetown University on Monday. Their lives deserve care and accompaniment, even in the most trying of times, the experts said.
“When we speak of respect for human life, it is easy for us to get caught up in abstractions, and our response can be – or appear to be – somewhat theoretical. But our obligations are quite concrete,” said Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, in a speech at Georgetown University. “Life depends on us,” he urged.
Wuerl spoke at an Oct. 2 event entitled “Lives Worthy of Respect,” beginning the school’s Respect Life Month programming. After the cardinal’s address was panel of speakers, including George Mason University law Professor Helen Alvare, National Right to Life vice president Tony Lauinger, homelessness advocate Sister Mary Louise Wessell, and Congressman and doctor Dr. Brad Wenstrup (Ohio-2). The panel was moderated by Dr. Kevin Donovan, a a professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University, and director of the university’s Center for Bioethics.
Wuerl stressed the importance of life – and the challenges facing culture where “people have the power to choose which lives are worth living and which ones are not.” The cardinal pointed to the prevalence of suicide among young people, the rise of physician-assisted suicide, and the discarding of the disabled, the unborn, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations as examples of a culture which views some lives as not worthy of living.
The Christian view of life, he countered, honors life not as something we own or create, but are stewards of: “Life, as all creation, in its rich diversity is God’s gift.” To counter the views of life which see people as disposable and burdens, Wuerl suggested following the example of Pope Francis and accompanying those who are suffering.
The speakers’ panel echoed the cardinal’s critique of a culture of discarding others and the need to care intimately for the vulnerable. Alvare shared how her experiences caring for her severely disabled sister and elderly grandparents gave her a new appreciation for the Church’s “radical” message of the equality of all human persons.
As she became more involved in the pro-life movement, she saw the web of situations and decisions in a culture “that immiserates women.” “The poor are suffering the most,” she said of this culture, and critiqued the lack of solutions provided to women that don’t include abortion.
Westrup pointed to a deeply moving experience of caring for an AIDS patient in 1985 while he was a resident in Chicago. He explained that many of his fellow doctors were scared of the man, and the attending physician made care for the dying man voluntary. Westrup wanted to see him, however, and learned much from his examination. “I learned even more from what he said to me afterwards,” Westrup recalled.
The man told the young doctor that “you just examined me more than anyone,” and was grateful for his care. The patient died the next day. “I thought what does that feel like to be so discarded, cast aside. To be made to feel that your life is meaningless,” Westrup mused.
However, the man’s life, though it was painful at the end, was not meaningless, and Western still remembers his patient’s name and takes his message of care for each vulnerable person to heart. “He delivered that message on his last day of life,” the congressman stated. “It matters to the very last moment.”
Lauinger emphasized the high cost of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and the millions of persons whose lives have been taken over the past 45 years. “It was less than 25 years after the Nuremburg trials that our own supreme court condemned to death the unborn children of America,” Lauinger lamented. “This is not a victimless act,” he urged. “Therefore it is not a matter of private morality but public morality: protecting the most innocent, the most vulnerable members of our human family.”